Okay, so my first comments weren’t too appreciative. Then, I thought it might make more sense to go back and trawl for first principles. The first of these presented by the authors is that the new culture of learning comprises two elements: a massive information network with almost unlimited access and resources; and a bounded and structured environment that allows unlimited agency to build and experiment within those boundaries. My (third) thought about this is that resources implies cognitive knowledge but not skill eg if I want to learn carpentry this involves both intellectual and a physical skills. And the carpentry can’t be learnt through an online avatar, for the physicality of wielding a hammer, saw or heft of wood, is very different from the skill of using a keyboard, mouse and joystick. Likewise with a sport or a health intervention such as surgery. Nonetheless, I take the point that the interplay between these two elements are required to make a powerful culture of learning.
And I must acknowledge that developments in simulacrum mean that models and virtual reality tools are increasingly being used in the training of junior doctors and surgeons. So there is no reason why it might not be possible to learn carpentry skills in virtual reality, given the appropriate tools. Although I suspect that the development of virtual tools capable of supporting virtual training of a carpenter will parallel the development of robots to do the whole job. In other words, the moment that manual skill will cease.
Yet I acknowledge the overall conclusion of Thomas and Brown is that the access to the massive (social) network and information, and the bounded environment ( a problem to solve within certain constraints), is and will be extraordinarily fruitful in unpacking the problem, sifting through a large number of potential solutions to find the best or best short list, planning a strategy, and establishing an activities timeline. Where the problem and the solution is social interaction, much of the activity could be done online. However, even here, I am skeptical that the real skill of communication and strengthening human relationships requires intimate interaction ie within the outer boundaries of personal space. I guess what I am suggesting here, is that, to become a great communicator, we must learn to manage our emotions within the sphere of our primate urges towards another’s intimate emotional content, whether placid, angry, excited, or sensual. Does the ‘distance’ created by the online entity, actually inhibit the development of intimate human relationships or does the learning effect become powerful when the online learners can also learn in direct contact social groups?